Expert Advice

An Expert Shares Her Step-By-Step Guide to Organizing the Trickiest Area of Your Home

Junk drawer, no more.

By Rachel Rosenthal
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This might be a controversial statement, but hear me out: I don’t believe in junk drawers. Now, I know what you’re thinking, did I click on the wrong article? Aren’t we supposed to be learning about organizing junk drawers and not shaming them? Well, no, you didn’t misclick and yes, we will get into the details of how to organize a junk drawer in a moment. But before we do that, it’s important to dive into why I don’t believe in junk drawers. 

My biggest problem with a junk drawer is the word “junk.” Definition: old or discarded items that are considered useless or of little value. Why would you take up valuable space in your kitchen, mudroom, or office with items of little value? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everything in your junk drawer needs to be high quality or valuable. What it does need to do, however, is serve a purpose.

When organizing any space from your fridge to your closet, every piece needs to earn its keep. If you don’t wear those black pumps, donate them. If you’re past your quarantine-inspired baking phase, toss that sourdough starter. The items in your junk drawer? Take the same approach. Every piece of “junk” needs to serve a purpose.

Feature image by Nicki Sebastian.

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Image by Matti Gresham
Rachel Rosenthal

Rachel Rosenthal is an organizing expert and founder of Rachel and Company, a Washington, DC-based professional organizing firm. Since 2007, Rachel’s firm has worked with 3000+ clients and teamed up with prominent brands, including West Elm, Pottery Barn, The Container Store, and Four Seasons. Rachel’s expertise has been featured in 100+ publications, including Real Simple, Martha Stewart, House Beautiful, The Rachael Ray Show, and local NBC, ABC, and Fox morning shows. Rooted in the belief that organization can be achieved by all, Rachel emphasizes solutions that are easy to use and enhance a home’s existing aesthetic.

It’s Time to Eliminate the Catch-All Mentality

This is the second problem with a junk drawer. We’ve been conditioned to simply toss items we don’t know what to do with into a junk drawer and think about them another day. This is how you end up with a drawer bursting at the seams and never being able to find that battery you know you have, or that matchbook when the power goes out. Just like other spaces in your home, your junk drawer should contain categories. It’s important to be thinking about each piece before you add something new to the drawer.

Changing your mindset for your junk drawer from a catch-all space that contains junk to a space that holds categorized items that serve a purpose is the first step in organizing your junk drawer. Once you move past thinking of the items in the drawer as junk, you will be more likely to maintain the organization systems we put in place. Keep scrolling for my step-by-step guide to organizing your junk drawer.

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Image by Teal Thomsen

1. Take Everything Out

Yes, everything! I know just the thought of it can make most of us wince, but the first step to organizing your junk drawer is to dump it all out. New life motto? If Marie Kondo makes it a habit, it’s probably a good idea to incorporate it into your organizing routine as well.

2. Declutter

The next step is to declutter the items you currently have in your junk drawer. Initially, this is going to be easy with things like tossing trash. But don’t stop there! Write with each and every pen to make sure it works, test batteries, try out flashlights, etc. Think through which items you don’t need in your home at all and the ones that might be ready for donation.

3. Relocate

After you’ve decluttered and scaled back the items in your junk drawer, next you have to determine if anything can be relocated to another area of your home. Do you need to keep your screwdriver in a kitchen drawer or can that go in the garage? Do you need a ruler in your junk drawer or is that better in the kids’ homework area?

4. Create Categories

Whew, doesn’t that feel better already? Now that you’ve decluttered and relocated items, you will be left with the pieces that need to go back into your junk drawer. Take these items and create categories for the drawer—a scissor section, a tape section, and I know we all have a battery section.

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Image by Ashlee Fox

5. Measure for (and Add) Products

Once you have your categories in place, you’ll want to measure your drawer for organizing products. Some type of bins or drawer organizers is essential for a junk drawer. Because this drawer often contains multiple categories, it’s important to create sections so that everything has a home and you don’t end up with one big jumbled mess again. Measure your drawer side to side and back to front (don’t forget about the depth) and then play a little Tetris with what dividers fit in your drawer and work with your categories.

6. Put Everything Back—But Don’t Forget the Finishing Touches

This is the step you’ll thank yourself for doing later. You’re going to place everything into the drawer bins/categories you’ve added. After that, take it one step further. This step will be unique to your junk drawer but think sharpening each pencil in the junk drawer, finding the end of the tape and folding it over, or refilling a lighter. It’s these little things that make the biggest difference, because now, everything in your junk drawer is ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

Hannah Haston photography, kitchen, marble, flowers, stove_how to organize a junk drawer
Image by Hannah Haston

Organize Your Junk Drawer With the Help of These Hard-Working Products

Open Spaces Storage Gems

With an accessible price tag, these little and luxe acrylic catch-alls beautifully contain all your odds and ends in a way that feels functional, organized, and oh-so-stylish.

Open Spaces Storage Gems, $64

Open Spaces Nesting Trays (Set of 3)

Even without taller edges, I love trays because they carve out an intentional space for specific items.

Open Spaces Nesting Trays (Set of 3), $48

HAY Kaleido Tray Sets

Ditto on the trays. These vibrant and geometric options transform your junk drawer into the most stylish part of your home.

HAY Kaleido Tray Sets, $80

Marie Kondo Ori Rattan Document Box

Stray papers no more! Take some time to first sort through all your random documents and store only what’s necessary in this gorgeous rattan box.

Marie Kondo Ori Rattan Document Box, $34.99

IDesign Linus Shallow Drawer Organizers

Acrylic makes it easy to see exactly what you have and what items you need to stock up on.

IDesign Linus Shallow Drawer Organizers, from $4.99

IDesign Large Linus Battery Organizer

Those random, do-they-still-work batteries you have in every corner of your junk drawer? Organize them here.

IDesign Large Linus Battery Organizer, from $16.99

The Container Store Stackable Bamboo Drawer Organizers

When it comes to organizing any room of your home, no approach can be one-size-fits-all. These drawer organizers let you customize and mix-and-match so your space’s specific needs are met.

The Container Store Stackable Bamboo Drawer Organizers, from $5.99

This post was originally published on April 13, 2021 and has since been updated.